Chicago-area photographer Helen Balfour Morrison is largely unknown today, but she created impressive body of photographs documenting African American life in Depression-era Kentucky as well as artists and writers in Chicago. Born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1901, Morrison took a job in a photography studio at age 16 to help support herself. She initiated her own artistic career in the 1930s.
For her Kentucky project, Morrison traveled to the Inner Bluegrass region near Lexington, where she photographed the residents of two small African American communities, Zion Hill and Sugar Hill. Her images reveal the dignity, independence, and strength of the close-knit descendants of the freedmen who settled the Kentucky hamlets in the decades following the Civil War. Morrison’s photographs chart the daily lives of these individuals, picturing their work, domestic rituals, and social life. They preserve this proud legacy for future generations and invite further investigation and understanding of the experiences of African Americans in these communities and others during the first half of the twentieth century.
Featured here is the complete set of digitized images from this series, including the original prints developed by Morrison and additional undeveloped negatives.